The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (NIAIST--apparently all the good acronyms really have been taken) has developed a carpet whose grid of electrodes tracks your footfalls. The magic comes from the analysis algorithm: It can determine your age (between 20 and 60) and gender (with about 75 percent accuracy) based entirely on your gait. NIAIST believes the technology could be used to analyze traffic in retail spaces or to determine audience demographics at theaters and other venues.
As the world's population becomes grayer, there's increasing interest in using technology to help people "age in place"--that is, to remain in the home longer before moving to centralized care. (Accenture is doing some interesting research in this field.) NIAIST's sensitive carpet might be a significant contribution to the cause: It could track your gait over time to discover whether you've acquired new aches and pains (something of interest to your physician); detect whether you've fallen; and measure your level of activity (i.e., walking around). If an algorithm could identify individuals from their gaits, the carpet might be used for security applications (as you walk down the hall, your apartment door opens). The advantage of this sort of biometric is that (unlike, say, fingers) it's impossible to fake or steal--it's more like a highly personal dance than a body part. Of course, such a system would let retailers track an individual's movements through the store, which would supply much more detailed information than the purchase data derived from loyalty cards. The more paranoid among us will probably be buying pogo sticks.